More Songs About Buildings & Food: Stuffed & Starved, NYC Revisited, SSES, Bookfeast ... All in a Day's Work

Went back to New York last week. Didn't really know I was going until a few days before. I got an assignment to do a one day live blogging gig in exchange for the airfare. Not that I felt a need to surface for air or anything, especially in the States, but Jess was going and we've decided to make the Paul and Linda McCartney pact of never spending a night away from each other (except for his stint in a Japanese jail).

Raj Patel Stuffed and Starved Being that I'm married to a food fanatic and the organizer of the meeting I was blogging for, I didn't have to do that much prep work for the blogging. I pick up such information second-hand over meals. I did however read Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System on the plane over. I often frequent Raj Patel's blog of the same name but it was good to see it all laid out in a book. It's a scathing exposé of the food industry, from the fields where the workers are exploited, to the massive supermarkets, and to where it eventually reaches our palate. The book has been lying around our coffee table for some time, and as a book connoisseur, the one thing that has struck me about it is the ugly cover (the intent, I imagine). So the first thing I did was see who published it, and discovered that strangely enough it's published by Melville House, which is synonymous in my mind with Tao Lin.

I guess that makes sense being that Tao Lin is also a vegan foodie, of the neurotic type. Despite the ugly cover (maybe it exists in other versions), I'd recommend Stuffed & Starved, especially if you want to depress yourself about all the evils of the global food industry. I couldn't put it down, reading it continuously from Nairobi to Amsterdam and then I think I finished it half-way to NYC. Of course you probably won't feel like eating much after you read it, or you'll find yourself scrutinizing everything you eat. We should always remind ourselves where our food comes from. Especially on an airplane, I'm amazed at how far from the "natural" world we've become. Here's the seafood lunch I was given on Kenya Airways:

Kenya Air Food

The cheese said "vegetarian" on it, whatever that means. How does one measure the carbon footprint of airplane food when you are traveling with the food? The crackers were from Italy, and at the time we ate lunch we were close to being over Italy. Back in the early 00s I remember there was a site where we'd upload our airline meals. I'm pretty sure it was www.airlinemeals.net but apparently it's not what it used to be. It never is. Still, browsing through the archives is fascinating. Here's what we had on the KLM Amsterdam to NYC leg. I can't remember what it was, and can't tell from the picture. I think it was chicken.

KLM Food

Got into NYC late. Stayed at a cool apartment up in Morningside, on 108th & Broadway, 15th floor overlooking the Hudson (thanks MBP!). Across from Tom's Restaurant (a.k.a. Monk's Cafe, or Tom's Diner), where we ate the next morning. How could you see this and not hear that Seinfeld bassline, or Suzanne Vega's a cappella lament?

Tom's Diner

Went to Columbia to get the framework of the global food forum blog ready. The block we were on was blocked off because McCain and Obama were both there for some forum. Jess's computer crashed, so we went down to the Mac store in Soho to get her another one. Ate at Dos Caminos. Two observations I had since returning: (1) more people ride bikes in NYC than two months before and (2) people either looked more fashionable or they seemed to go through great lengths to NOT look fashionable. The latter observation perhaps could be attributed to it being Fashion Week. African Americans also seemed especially strange to me. They looked more or less the same as in Africa, but acted and dressed differently. Hard to explain. Walking through Soho, we overheard some slutty woman getting into a limo call back over her shoulder to her fashionably slutty friends, "are you going to the booty call?" This was followed by a Luc Besson (a.k.a. The Professional) sighting.

It was the 7th anniversary of 9/11. We were living in NYC on the 0th anniversary. Jess captured this shot of the the light they shine in remembrance of 9/11 on 9/11. There's two lights I think, but from our angle we could only see one.

9/11 memorial

The second morning we ate at Community. It was kind of rainy and dreary. The city was shrouded in scaffolding. I went running past Grant’s tomb (of "who's buried in Grant's tomb?" fame) past the tallest church tower in the U.S. (though it was wrapped in scaffolding), and up and down the length of Morningside park. Like “Vacation,” it conjured Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. I like Morningside. If we ever moved back to NYC, I wouldn't mind living in that area. Later, we went to Amsterdam Café for drinks, ended up eating there with a bunch of our old Millennium Village cohorts.

The next day I ran around Central Park. Less than two months after I thought I was running it for the last time (to the tune of a song off More Songs About Buildings and Food). This whole trip back to NYC felt like a flashback. Of all the times I'd run Central Park, I'd never started from 110th street. So it was like I was doing the same thing but the middle was at the beginning and the end was in between. Everything was from a different angle.

Went back and met Jess, then we met Judy and got some strudel at some Hungarian pastry shop on Amsterdam, and checked out St. John's. The first time I've seen it not shrouded in scaffolding. And the Peace Fountain next to it has got to be the most jaded piece of public sculpture ever. If you're ever in the neighborhood, be sure to check it out.

St. Johns

Then we went down to the Meat Packing district and had brunch at Pastis (being touristy and all with Judy in tow).


Then I went to get a tattoo. I've been wanting to get a SSES tattoo, but have not been able to find a parlor in Nairobi. So went down to East Side Ink and had Alex do me up.

Getting Inked on the East Side

I got SSES sort of in honor of Joyce's Ulysses, by way of my brother. I'm more of an Odyssey fan myself, so if I did it for myself I might have done SSEY. Or SSEUS, which works well with the bonus Dr. connotations. Maybe I still will. When I got home I found out that David Foster Wallace had killed himself. So then I was thinking I should have done JEST or 8JEST (with the 8 on it's side). Not that I'm even finished with Infinite Jest—I'm stuck smack in the middle of it, and I'm fairly certain my brother didn't read it as he died a year before it was published. He also died months before OK Computer. It's strange though, in my mind he has experienced these things with me. His thesis in art school was entitled SSES, here's an excerpt from it.


After getting inked, we went to Ben and Chloe's. They are the ones who bought most of our furniture from our Goat Rodeo sale, so it was pretty funny to see our furniture in a different context. They also live next door to Patti Smith, on one of my favorite blocks in the city. And Ben is the one with the claw holding the crystal ball tattoo on his thigh. To keep in with the parallel themes, we went to get drinks and grub at Cabrito.


Had Cabrito been there before we left, maybe we would've stayed. It wasn't half bad for Mexican in NYC. On the way there we saw Tim Robbins playing street hockey. He shot the puck into a garbage can laid on it's side as we walked by. He's very tall.

The next day we got up early and took the subway to Brooklyn. Met Eugene Lim and lugged our collective books (Calamari, Ellipsis, 3rd Bed and Kwani?) to the Brooklyn Book Festival. Thanks to all that braved the epic heat to stop by. Tao Lin stopped by and as always picked up a couple of books. So even if he is involved in dubious literary hijinx such as selling a book he hadn't even written yet for $12,000, his profiteering goes to a worthy cause. Albeit a financially losing cause (didn't even make enough to pay for the table). No matter. A bunch of people stopped by asking for Binyavanga, since he had a scheduled speaking engagement at the festival. He emailed me the night before saying he couldn't get a visa. Good thing I had some Kwanis that I brought with me to hawk. Teju Cole was one of those that stopped by asking for Binya. He had his book with him, but wouldn't sell it to me, damn it. Matvei Yankelevich of Ugly Ducking stopped by. Amy Hempel even stopped by our table. At one point, I think it was while I was talking to Justin Taylor, it felt like the book festival was taking place inside a sauna bath. Most everyone was dripping sweat, but trying to make the best of it. Afterwards I felt like we had all run a marathon. Luckily I was dressed for the occasion, like a recovering junky tennis player in all black, in mourning for DFW.

Derek White and Eugene Lim at Brookly Book Festival

Some other things happened. I can't remember it was so fucking hot. Here's some video snippets I pieced together from here and there, and some footage from before we left that I never used. To another tune, Izimbra, from More Songs About Buildings and Food:

The last day was the day of the Global Food System Meeting up at Columbia. I spent the whole day blogging. It was kind of stressful, I've never done "live" blogging before. All sorts of big wigs were there, some from the liberal media and some from evil enterprises, made for some interesting debate. It was hard to stay subjective. Raj Patel, who's book I was talking about above, moderated one of the panels. Jeff Sachs of course was there, and scolded all us mortals like we were children for not being as smart as him.

Both Jess, who organized the event, and I were pretty shot afterwards. And we were both coming down with something and still jetlagged, and being pulled in all sorts of directions. Sometimes NYC can feel like Transylvania. We got dinner then went straight to the airport, got a 1 a.m. flight to Paris. Got to Paris the next morning. We had a five-hour layover, maybe enough time to hit the city, but not in the sucked-dry state we were in. We watched Blue Velvet on my laptop, which I had purchased, along with Raising Arizona and Jacob's Ladder, at Kim's Video's closeout sale, while some orthodox jew performed these wacky rituals behind us with a wood block strapped to his head. Thank google, I now know it's a tefillin. We got one cappuccino and one bottle of water and it cost us almost $20 dollars. The dollar is at an all-time sucky low.

Waste by Eugene Martin

On the plane from NYC to Paris I read Waste by Eugene Marten. It's the book in the bottom right corner of the photograph. The book in the bottom left is Fog & Car and that's the author Eugene Lim above it. I also picked that up from Ellipsis Press at the book festival, but it was in such hot demand that it was pried from my steely grip. So now I have to wait for it to navigate it's way through the Kenyan postal service. But Waste was a good read, about a warped janitor who snoops around in people's offices at night and eats food out of their garbage cans. A lot of really fucked up things happen in the book, here's a snippet of what you might expect:

By the time he got home he was desperate enough to take hold and yank as hard as he'd been afraid to, leaving a small wad of uncircumcised flesh and black hose embedded in the metal teeth.

And it gets better:

He was running out of holes—wasn't he only kidding when he'd thought about making a new one?

Now I know why Eugene Lim was reluctant to sell it to his high school students that came by our table! I also met Eugene Marten when he came by for a sauna. I saw him read once with Gary Lutz and Norman Lock and I must say, he almost stole the show. At least Gordon Lish, who was in attendance with a funny bandage on his face, thought so, and thought we should think so. My only complaint about Waste was that it was too short. I didn't have anything else to read the rest of the trip.

On the way from Paris to Nairobi, as luck would have it, I was seated to the most psychotic and obnoxious woman on the plane, if not all of Kenya. I didn't sleep for a minute, though I sat there with one-eye closed so she would think I was sleeping, though that didn't stop her from elbowing me and talking to me in a groggy monologue not unlike Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now! Two nights of sleep lost. We got to Nairobi at 5 a.m. and went to sleep as the sun was rising. More so than before, or in going to NYC, it felt like coming home.


(c) 2008 Derek White